Ehren Kruger talks SCREAM 3

Ehren Kruger's phone rang one day.

There was no bogeyman on the other end asking the young screenwriter what his favorite scary movie was, but rather the powers that be at Miramax/Dimension, calling to explain that they were in a bit of a bind. Kevin Williamson, swamped with the myriad of demands of writing and directing TEACHING MRS.TINGLE, only had time to draft a treatment for SCREAM 3, a project of horrifically huge significance to the company. The brothers Weinstein wanted to know if Kruger, hot off ARLINGTON ROAD and the scribe of Dimension's high-profile thriller DECEPTION, would be willing to devise the final adventures of Sidney (Neve Campbell), Dewey (David Arquette), and Gale (Courteney Cox Arquette), who are joined by an array of new characters played by Lance Henriksen, Parker Posey, Scott Foley, Kate Hudson, Patrick Dempsey, Heather Matarazzo and Jenny McCarthy.

"They asked me if I'd take a look at the work Kevin had done on it, and see if I'd be interested in continuing it," Kruger recalls. "I said, 'Sure.' I was a fan. I certainly think SCREAM reinvigorated the genre and gave it a shot in the arm. I sat and watched the movies again. I looked at Kevin's scripts- several times. All of that was really me trying to get a feel for the tone, so I could recreate it. The first treatments I turned in had the Sidney character written too much like Linda Hamilton in TERMINATOR 2. And Wes Craven would have to say to me. "It's good. It's good, but that's not really the character here." He'd have to steer me back/

"It was hard, because I haven't lived with these characters," he continues. "Wes has and the actors have. He may not be credited, but he worked on the story. In a sense, he and the actors know the characters much better than I do, and they know what the characters would and would not do. So a lot of it was learning and listening to Wes and the actors, and just trying to be write to what they know about the characters. It's interesting in that it's a lot like what I imagine writing a SCOOBY DOO episode would be like. They're these essentially funny characters in dire, scary situations. It's always fun to write people who can have a little levity. It's not one note of, 'We're scared to death. We're scared to death. We're scared to death.' They can be more human and more rounded.

"In a lot of horror films," Kruger adds, "you can half-hour mark and then the characters stop being rounded and become, 'We've gotta get out of here! We've gotta get out of here!' I did enjoy the fact that on SCREAM 3 I could use many different tones. One day we'd be shooting a scene that was truly comic. Then we'd be shooting a truly terrifying scene. Then we'd shoot a scene that dealt with the reality of what the characters were going through and how they deal with the fact that everywhere they go in life, there seems to be someone trying to stab them to death."

I seems appropriate that a guy named Kruger would work on a Wes Craven production, and the writer notes it was the collaborators involved who helped lead him to work on a project that didn't spring from his own inspiration. "A lot of the reason I did SCREAM 3 was to get to work with Wes Craven, to be working with the Miramax guys, who I have a lot of respect for," he says. "When you're doing a rewrite, it's never really coming to you. It's never the same as writing an original. So often, what you look for is 'Well who am I going to be working with' and "Who am I going to be learning from" The answers to those give you a lot of motivation for pursuing a project like this."

Kruger, who was on the set often during the first few weeks of filming and then "slinked off into the night" is reluctant to come out and provide plot details, but they're there, buried within his comments on related subjects. For example, listen to Kruger explain how his script picks up from Williamson's 20-30 page SCREAM 3 treatment. "Some of Kevin's ideas are still in there," he notes. "His treatments had to do with the same thing the movie does now, which is the filming of STAB 3. His original treatment had the story taking place in Woodsboro. I came on and said "We were in High School in the first one, in a small town. Then we took the characters to a little bigger place, in the second one. Let's just continue that. Instead of bringing Hollywood to Woodsboro, let's take these characters to Hollywood and give them a bigger haunted house to run in, as it were.'"

Rumor has it that SCREAM 3-due out on February 4, following the postponement of a planned Christmas 1999 release-is more satirical and less violent than it's predecessors, that Craven and Kruger were compelled to tone down the bloodletting in response to public outcry over the influence of films and TV show on America's youth. The screenwriter addresses both issues head on. "I haven't seen the final cut of the film, but I've felt from the script that it does emphasize the comedy and satire a little more, at least in the first half of the movie," he says "I don't think it's quite as dark as SCREAM 2 was. But it also delves a little more into the mythology of these characters than SCREAM 2 did. These movies are whodunits. They're SCOOBY DOO. They're NANCY DREW. They're mysteries with room to laugh and to be frightened, but the plots really lead to is 'Who is the person or persons behind the curtain?"

"As for the violence, it was day to day. There was one point, when all of this was getting going and Columbine was at its height, when the studio was going to do it bloodless, with no violence at all. Wes kind of came in and said, "Be serious, guys. Either we make a SCREAM movie or we make a movie and call it something else. But if it's a SCREAM movie, it's going to have certain standards." It needs to be, at points, scary. A lot of it was on Wes's shoulders. We could shoot a setpiece without blood or with a lot of blood. Either way can be successful. He didn't want to water down the tensions of the scares.

"Look at a movie like PSYCHO. It's got a terrifying attack sequence, but the stabbing and blood are really all implied. It you can recreate something of that caliber, then who cares whether there's blood on screen or not And that's something that can be good, sometimes, for a studio to fixate on. They'll fixate on how many frames of blood are in there, and they'll let a really terrifying sequence stand."

Given that psychological horror-thrillers a la THE SIXTH SENSE and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT seem to be the flavor of the moment, it's quite possible that SCREAM 3 will represent one last stab for what's been dubbed the smart slasher film. Or, of course, SCREAM 3 could go through the rood and launch a new wave of similar fare. "I don't know what's going to happen," Kruger says. "Just when you think the wave of some genre is done, it's not. The audience seems to have a shorter and shorter memory of what's dead or not. I don't know how SCREAM 3 will be received. If it is the last work on the smart slasher genre, it's defiantly sending it into hiatus on a high note."

Right around the time SCREAM 3 reaches theaters, so too will Kruger's other current endeavor, DECEPTION. Originally titles REINDEER GAMES, DECEPTION-which Kruger jokes "sounds like a perfume."-stars Ben (DOGMA) Affleck and Charlize (THE Astronaut's WIFE) Theron, and was directed by John Frankenheimer, the man behind such screen gems as THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, THE MACHURIAN CANDIDATE, SECONDS AND SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (as well as the lousy horror outings PROPHECY and 1996's ISLAND OF DR.MOREAU). "The basic story is about an ex-convict who's going to be released and tries to get home for the holidays." Kruger reveals, "And he gets unwittingly enmeshed in this plot to rob a casino. There's a lot of mistaken identity and twists and tight corners.

"Frankenheimer and Craven are night and day," he continues. "Craven is very mellow and very thoughtful and philosophical. Frankenheimer is a military general out there on the set, shooting from the hip and speaking from the gut. On that film, I was on the set almost all the time, because it was an original screenplay. It was an incredible thrill to work with John. And it turned out to be quite good."

At the moment, Kruger is busy with a variety of projects for Miramax. He hopes to write a family feature and a western, and he'll end up with a credit on IMPOSTER. The sci-fi entry began life began life as a segment of the long gestating ALIEN LOVE TRIANGLE anthology, but graduated to feature length based on the studio's enthusiasm for it. Kruger is also penning a remake of the James Stewart Kim Novak vehicle BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE, a romantic comedy with a witchcraft twist. And back in the horror genre, a Kruger script called MYTHIC is set to roll later this year. The chiller with a firefighter investigating strange blazes that prove to have a demonic origin will feature FX by Steve Johnson.

In a day and age when screenwriters often go unemployed, unheralded, or both, Kruger is both in demand and recognized for his talents. No one is more surprised by such developments than he. "I've been doing this for a living for 3 or 4 years now, but I've been writing since college," Kruger says, "I went to NYU's Film School and studied screenwriting there. I've never written a novel. I've never written a sitcom. Two-hour films are just the kinds of stories that have appealed to me creatively. I've just been at the right time at the right place."

Kruger laughs. "Sooner or later," he adds "it'll all come to a crashing halt."

-Fangoria #190

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